Numbers 9 - Keeping the Passover; the Cloud by Day and Fire by Night
A. Keeping the Passover.
1. (1-5) The first Passover in the wilderness.
a. Israel celebrated Passover as they were leaving Egypt (Exodus 12); the Passover here marks the one-year point of their journey out of slavery and into the Promised Land.
b. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it: Passover was meant to be a reminder of God's "passing over" Israel in the judgment of the firstborn at the Exodus from Egypt.
i. The blood of the lamb, applied to the door posts of the home, would be seen by the angel of God's judgment - and seeing the blood, the angel would "pass over" and spare the home covered by the blood. Passover was meant to be a continual reminder of this occasion of being spared judgment, and of the deliverance that followed in the Exodus.
ii. Jesus fulfilled the Passover sacrifice by His death on the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7); the covering of His blood causes the judgment of God to "pass over" us. We are commanded to continually remember our occasion of being spared judgment and the deliverance that followed, by remembering Jesus' work on the cross through the Lord's Supper.
2. (6-14) The case of the unclean men: Should they keep Passover?
a. The unclean must not neglect to keep Passover; it was a reminder and an identification with spared judgment and deliverance that must always be remembered. However, the unclean had to wait one month and keep Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month.
i. Are we to think these were the only two in Israel who had defiled themselves on the Passover? Of course not. Then why do only these two come forth? Perhaps because others who had become unclean on Passover saw it as an excuse to not partake. They could have a "day off." But these two wanted to partake of Passover, and are bold enough to ask Moses - to ask God! - for an exception to the previous command! (Leviticus 7:20; 22:3)
ii. Thus, provision was made for the unclean to remember God's spared judgment and deliverance - and the unclean needed most to remember it!
b. However, those among Israel who were clean and not traveling must keep Passover, or be cut off from among his people. The punishment for not keeping Passover was severe: That man shall bear his sin, instead of having it borne by the Passover lamb.
i. In the same pattern, we must partake of Jesus, or bear our own sin. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. . . . He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53, 56)
c. Additionally, it didn't matter what bloodline or ethnic group the person came from: Even the stranger could and must partake of Passover, or be cut off. A Jew with the purest bloodlines would be cut off if they neglected Passover; the most mongrel gentile would be accepted if they participated in God's Passover.
d. Before Israel can enter into the Promised Land, they must remember what got them there: The sparing of God's judgment, and His glorious, miraculous deliverance. Promised land people must always live in remembrance of God's deliverance, and it all flows from the work of Jesus on the cross.
B. The cloud and the fire guide Israel.
1. (15) The presence of God with Israel is displayed by the cloud and fire.
a. When the tabernacle was originally built (raised up), God blessed it by showing His presence in the form of the cloud by day and the fire by night (Exodus 40:34-38).
b. This cloud of God's Shekinah glory was evident at different times in Israel's history; when Solomon built the temple, the cloud of glory filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11); but when Israel apostatized, and before the temple was destroyed by conquering Babylonians, the cloud of glory departed (Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18-19).
i. Which would be worse - to have never seen such an amazing visual emblem of God's presence and glory, or to have seen it - and then watch it depart? This is why God so sparingly appeals to our physical senses with the emblems of His glory; we will be (perhaps rightly) devastated when the emblem is gone.
ii. In 1992, some "prophets" within the Vineyard movement claimed to have discovered a sensory evidence of God's presence: They said they learned God smells like roses or honeysuckle. When then do you do when the smell stops - or you smell what they said sin smells like, sulfur.
c. Additionally, this was more than "show and tell"; the fire at night was obviously a comfort to Israel in the midst of a dark wilderness, and the cloud by day would be a shade from the hot wilderness sun.
i. For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat (Isaiah 25:4) The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day (Psalm 121:5). In the Lord, we genuinely have it "made in the shade"!
2. (16-23) Guidance by the cloud by day and the fire by night.
a. Though Israel had been organized and ordered by God; though they had been cleansed, and set apart, and blessed, and giving, and walking in their priesthood, they still had to be guided by God each step of the way to make it to the Promised Land. God had not done all those previous things to make them able to start towards the Promised Land on their own, but to make every step in constant dependence on Him.
b. So, when the cloud moved, Israel moved; when the cloud stayed, Israel stayed. They would not journey expect where the presence of God led them, and they would not stay except where the presence of God stayed.
i. Believers today must, in the same way, be led by the presence of God; when Paul says let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15) he means the presence of God's peace is to be an "umpire" in our hearts.